WILL ROGERS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Okla. --
Not all 'firsts' happen on a national level. Locally, the 137th Air Refueling Wing has extraordinary Airmen doing their jobs every day and breaking down barriers in the process.
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Luc "Marshall" Shoals is one of those Airmen who carried out each of her positions admirably and just so happened to accomplish a first for the Wing - the first African-American woman from Will Rogers Air National Guard Base to put on the rank of chief master sergeant.
"It was certainly an honor, however I must give credit to all women before me," Shoals said. "They paved the way for me to wear the stripes of a chief. I was, and am, very proud to be the first."
Shoals put on chief master sergeant while working as the recruiting and retention superintendent of the Headquarters of the Oklahoma Air National Guard in Oklahoma City, after first working at Will Rogers ANGB for much of her more than 30-year military career.
Before that, Shoals started as so many of those before her did and joined the Army National Guard in 1979, serving as a photojournalist. Three years later, she transferred to the Air National Guard as a financial services specialist and then moved to personnel as the superintendent where she was responsible for conducting recruitment programs.
Later, Shoals became a minority officer recruiter who recruited minority pilots and navigators as part of a nationwide effort for the Air National Guard.
"It was important to me to represent minorities as a minority officer recruiter, because if everyone in your organization looks exactly like you, be that black, white, Asian, etc., then there is a problem," Shoals said. "You are not representing our great country, and you are missing out on a great deal of wonderful talent."
She also conducted seminars, speaking to thousands of students about education, life choices, character, and believing in one's self.
In her military life and now in her civilian life, Shoals continues her path of education and mentorship by giving advice to those who are looking to break barriers of their own.
"Always be prepared," she directed. "Give yourself options, believe in your abilities, help someone if you can, especially your veteran community, and keep an attitude of gratitude. We stand on the shoulders of all those who made the sacrifices for us to be where we are."
In 2000, Shoals retired from the Air National Guard but only left military life momentarily. She was soon appointed to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans where she served for three years. As a committee member, Shoals was charged with providing advice for the Secretary of Veteran Affairs and the U.S. Congress on the needs of women veterans with respect to veteran's benefits and services.
As a minority veteran woman with vast experience, Shoals was asked to join the committee to help advocate for other women like her.
"I was amazed at their accomplishments, and I wanted to be a part of this amazing organization," she said. "I wanted to make a difference in the lives of women veterans everywhere. I thought if ever there is a reason to come out of retirement, the Women's Advisory Committee was the best reason I could ever think of."
There are approximately 22 million living veterans, and about 2 million are women veterans, according to the VA. That is about 9.2 percent of the total veteran population. The VA has estimated that by 2040, women veterans will make up approximately 16 percent of the veteran population.
Now, Chief Shoals is enjoying retirement, again.
To read the introduction to this series for African American History Month, click here
For part 1 of 4, click here
For part 2 of 4, click here.
For part 3 of 4, click here.